Mystery Worshippers are akin to Mystery Shoppers.
Bear love's this Church
The church: Holy Family, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Toronto.
The building: The church occupies a new building since a 1997 fire destroyed the original Holy Family Church. The interior is simple, but visually pleasing. At the back of the nave is a row of confessionals. A shrine to Our Lady graces the front. The chancel is a raised platform surrounded by a communion rail, with a free standing altar in the centre. Behind a screen is the tabernacle, a compromise reached with the archdiocese to allow traditional placement of the tabernacle while fulfilling modern requirements that it be in a distinct space.
The church: Holy Family is one of two parishes served by the apostolate of the Oratory of St Philip Neri, a congregation of Roman Catholic priests and lay-brothers who live together in community bound together by no formal vows but only by the bond of charity. Oratorians append the letters C.O., the abbreviation for the Latin Congregatio Oratorii, to their names. The Oratory was transferred here from the Archdiocese of Montréal in 1979. Six masses are celebrated each Sunday according to the missal of Paul VI, including three sung masses (two in English and one in Latin). Solemn vespers and benediction are offered Sunday evenings, and every weekday one mass is offered according to the missal of John XXIII. The parish has strong musical and catechetical programmes, as well as regular family and adult educational and devotional events. The Oratorians serve another parish up the street, St Vincent de Paul, where the Sunday traditional Latin mass is celebrated.
The neighbourhood: The village of Parkdale was amalgamated with Toronto in 1889. It has an ethnically diverse population and is in the midst of gentrification. Slum housing and the proximity to the psychiatric hospital present serious social problems in the area. Ecclesiastically, Parkdale is known as the heartland of Anglo-Catholicism in Toronto, but no parish existed for the village’s Roman Catholics until the establishment of the original Holy Family mission at the turn of the 20th century.
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was the Revd Michael Eades, C.O., who was ordained to the priesthood on the Feast of St Philip Neri, 26 May of this year.
The date & time: Feast of the Holy Rosary, Saturday, 10 October 2009, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?Missa Cantata according to the Usus Antiquior (Sung Mass according to the Old Rite).
How full was the building?The church was nearly full, save for some of the seating reserved for the fraternal organisations in attendance – a few of these seats turned out not to be needed. I spotted at least half dozen other Anglicans in the nave.
Did anyone welcome you personally?No. I found a service booklet and a seat.
Was your pew comfortable?Yes, with a very comfortable kneeler.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?Although I arrived nearly half an hour early, I was not the first to arrive. A group of men – perhaps Knights of Columbus – were congregated on the front steps of the church with walkie-talkies in preparation for the event. Inside, several people had already begun praying the rosary before mass and a trickle of people flowed in and out of the confessionals.
What were the exact opening words of the service?As the ministers and the caped Knights of Columbus (each armed with a sword) entered in procession, the choir sang the introit: Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes sub honore Beatae Mariae Virginis (Let us all rejoice in the Lord, whilst celebrating this festal day in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
What books did the congregation use during the service?A service leaflet was provided, with chants coming from the Adoremus Hymnal in the pew racks. Some brought their own personal missals.
What musical instruments were played?The church's organ was played beautifully from the loft.
Did anything distract you?Apart from a few very fetching seminarians in the chancel party, I couldn't help noticing the controversal television and radio talk show host (and Holy Family parishioner) Michael Coren in the pew behind mine.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?This was a dignified and solemn traditional Latin mass (although not strictly speaking a missa solemnis), with plainsong, incense, and splendid vestments. There were some ceremonial idiosyncrasies: for instance, the people knelt for the introit, Kyrie and Gloria. Surprisingly, the celebrant did not read the gospel in English after chanting it in Latin, a practice (I have been told by those old enough to remember) common in the days before the Second Vatican Council.
Exactly how long was the sermon?4 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?7 – Father Eades spoke clearly and slowly, making his point with care.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?The short reflection consisted of a synopsis of the Battle of Lepanto, where the Catholic allies' defeat of the Ottoman Empire was attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary. Father Eades extolled the virtues and benefits of praying the rosary.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?Because the altar was free-standing, the celebrant was able to circumambulate it while censing it, which I always find a far more satisfying and impressive sight than the side-to-side censing of fixed altars. I was also quite struck by the chasuble, which bore an enormous head-to-toe image of the Blessed Virgin in the orphrey.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?Remaining seated during the administration of holy communion is invariably a sorrowful moment for me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?Making my way into the narthex, I met up with a few of my co-religionists. Together we proceeded to the parish hall.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?Not merely coffee, but an impressive hot and cold buffet lunch was served. Meatballs, pigs-in-blankets, miniature quiches, roast beef sandwiches, dumplings, tea sandwiches, and cheeses were all on offer. From the array of pastries served for dessert, I selected a very nice custard tart.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?9 – If I were a Roman Catholic living in Toronto, I would almost certainly be a regular at Holy Family and St Vincent de Paul.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?It certainly did, and it was a rare treat in my usual liturgical fare.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?The life-sized Virgin on Father's back
Scripture to keep in mind
Six things there are, which the Lord hateth, and the seventh his soul detesteth:  Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,  A heart that deviseth wicked plots, feet that are swift to run into mischief, A deceitful witness that uttereth lies, and him that soweth discord among brethren.  My son, keep the commandments of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother. ***Cf:Douay-Rheims Proverbs 6: 16-20
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